Training Days

Posted by on Oct 24, 2011 in Shizuoka, Travel Volunteer Journey | 5 Comments
Training Days

Today is our 40th day as travel volunteers: if we were emigrating pets, or Jesus Christ, it’d be time to leave quarantine and come home for a bite to eat and a bit of a cuddle. But we’re neither, so we keep travelling. In fact, for two of those 40 days, we’ve been nothing but passengers. Forty-eight hours is our extremely conservative estimate about how long we’ve spent on Japan’s trains, so we thought it was about time we told you all about them.

Earlier this year, while in America we looked into the prospect of travelling by train. It was slow and infrequent, and at least as expensive as flying. We ended up taking a bus with the bums and psychopaths instead. When we got home to the UK, we were faced with more or less the same problem, so we hired a car.

Other times we’ve been in countries with train networks that are cheap, but no wonder – in places like Sri Lanka they’re still using relics of the colonial era. As often as not they fail to make their destination at all, let alone follow any recognisable timetable.

So when it comes to trains, our expectations aren’t exactly sky-high. But in Japan, they really, really should be. There is a level of efficiency and punctuality that goes well beyond the norm. It’s never late, nor is it early – it arrives precisely when it means to. To employ an old cliché, you can set your watch by the trains, and if not then YOUR WATCH IS WRONG.

The Japanese rail network hates lateness like ryokans hate beds (i.e. a lot). Anything over 60 seconds of tardiness is explained over the tannoy, with no small amount of apologies. It’s impressive stuff, it really is, especially when you consider the sheer number of trains pinging around the country at every moment of every day. Overground, underground, they’re everywhere.

Plus, they’re tidy, and clean. The mighty shinkansen has power points; other models have overhead luggage space; trolly dollies push battered carts up and down the aisles – it often feels more like getting on a plane than a train.

Riding the bullet train is a must, a quintessentially Japanese experience. The first time we boarded one, we couldn’t wait to see the world fly past. To our surprise, though, the majority of time was spent underground. The fastest trains take the most direct routes to justify their inflated prices. As the majority of Japan is covered by mountains, this means making like The Jam and going underground. Actually, to get a real idea of the speed of the shinkansen, it’s best to stand in a station while one of them tears through.

The Shinkansen from Travel Volunteer on Vimeo.

That, by the way, is it slowing down to pass through the station. When on board a stationary train, the rush of air from a passing bullet is so great it shoves the whole carriage to one side.

There aren’t many downsides to train travel in Japan – but it’s not perfect, either. Today en route to Hamamatsu, we accidentally stumbled onto the smoking carriage of the shinkansen. It’s a funny thing about the forward-looking Japanese, that their love of smoking – in bars, restaurants, trains – remains undulled, despite it becoming increasingly unpopular in virtually every other developed country. Anyway, we got away from the smokers as quickly as possible, dragging our bags past commuters somehow eating in the middle of the reeking fug, their senses so extinguished by their own addictions that they simply didn’t care.

The other downside, just like back home, is how expensive it is. Yes you can get everywhere at all times of day, but for heaven’s sake don’t start converting all the costs back to your own currency, especially if you want to ride the bullet train, and definitely if you want to book a reserved seat.

But there is a way to cut down on all this: get a rail card. Just make sure you apply for it before you fly to Japan, because, owning to some bureaucratic red tape, you can’t get it once you’re here.

So do that, then you can sit back and relax. Just don’t miss your stop – the train won’t hang around.

 

Our time in Shizuoka prefecture was made possible by:

The ever-awesome Yasu and Angela for hosting us, not just in Izu, but in Hakuba back in Nagano too. They spend their summers by the sunny seaside, and the winters on the snowy slopes and are, make no mistake about it, a very cool couple. No matter the season, if you’re planning on visiting Japan and are looking for a hostel, check them out here.

Also, a quick thank you to Real Surf in Izu, who turned a blind eye to the enormous hole Jamie contrived to get in his wetsuit. His claims that the tear came while wrestling a shark were believed by precisely no one, but still the shop didn’t charge extra for the repair.

 

今日はトラベルボランティアとして旅をはじめて40日目。もし私達がペットを飼っていて、それを預けて旅に出ているとすると、そろそろ恋しくなる頃だろうが、幸か不幸か私達にペットはいないので、こうして元気に楽しく旅を続けさせてもらっている。
この40日間を振り返って・・・とにかく電車にはお世話になっている。軽く見積もって48時間ぐらいは電車の上で過ごしているだろ。そこで今日は私達が体験してきた“日本”の一つとして“日本の電車”についてお話させてもらう事にした。

今年の初めアメリカを旅している時、電車での旅を試みた事があった。だがアメリカの電車は遅いし、接続も悪く、そして飛行機を使うのと同じぐらい高額。そこで結局バスの旅に変わってしまった。イギリスに戻ってからも電車に関しての環境は変わらず、車をレンタルして生活を送っていた。

逆にとある国では電車の料金が非常に安く、喜んでいたのだが・・・やはり安いなりの理由があったのだ。例えばスリランカでは今にも壊れそうな電車が未だにふつうに走っており、一目で目的地に到着するのは難しいと思われるような時刻表が組まれているのだ。

それらの経験から、私達の“電車”に対する期待度は非常に低く、どちらかというと避けて通りたいと思っていたのだが・・・。ここ日本ではその期待をはるかに超える環境でびっくりしている。とにかく正確で時間通り。決して送れないし、もちろん早く到着したりもしない。言うならば“電車で時計の時間を設定する事ができる”くらいだ。

日本の電車のシステムは遅れることに異常なまでに罪悪感を持っていて、1分以上遅れようものなら、何事かと思う程の謝罪がそこら中に響き渡る。陸上から地下から、日本中に張り巡らされたこの広大な電車のシステムで、これを追求し、実現している事。素晴らしいの一言に尽きる。

そして日本の電車のきれいな事!席の上には荷物を置くスペースがあり、車内販売サービスがあり、日本の電車に乗っていると、まるで飛行機に乗っているかのような錯覚に陥る程だ。

中でも新幹線は絶対におさえて欲しい電車だ。まさに日本の本質を体感するにはベストだと思う。ただ・・・初めて新幹線に乗った時“最速”を体感できることに胸躍らせていたのだが、驚いた事に乗車時間のほとんどがトンネルの中だった・・・。日本のほとんどが山に覆われている事を考えると当然なのだが、ちょっと残念だった。と言う訳で・・・もし新幹線のスピードを体感したければ、新幹線のホームがお勧めだ!

これだけ素晴らしい日本の電車、あまり不満はないのだが、もちろん完璧と言う訳ではない。昨日浜松に向かう電車で間違って喫煙車両に乗ってしまった。日本ほどの先進国で、未だにこれほど様々な場所で喫煙ができるという事は大きな驚きだった。バーでもレストランでも電車でも・・・なので喫煙車両に当たってしまうとなかなか辛く、私達は急いで別の車両に移動させてもらった。

もう一つのネガティブ点は・・・やはり料金だ。とにかく高い!もちろん日本中どこにでも行けるし、確かに素晴らしいのだが、支払っている料金を自分の国の通貨に換算すると・・・。やめておこう。あなたが新幹線、そしてやっぱり指定席に乗りたいと思うなら、それなりの金額を覚悟しなければならない。

だがこれをご覧になられている日本国外に在住の方には朗報が!JRパスを購入することで、お手軽な料金でこれらの電車を活用できるのだ。ただ購入は日本国外のみ!ご注意あれ。

これで金額を気にせずゆっくりと電車の旅を楽しむ事ができる!ただ・・・時間は間違えないように!日本の電車は待ってくれません!

静岡県の滞在でお世話になった皆様

本当に素敵なカップル、ヤスさんとアンジェラさん。今回の下田のみならず、長野県の白馬でも宿泊先を提供して下さいました。ありがとうございました。夏は下田のロッジを、冬は白馬のロッジをオープンさせて、多くのサーファーやスキーヤーをもてなしておられます。もし日本でロッジに宿泊したいと思っておられる方、おすすめです!本当に素敵な滞在をありがとうございました。

5 Comments

  1. Kavey
    October 24, 2011

    Love your collection of black and white images, really striking.

  2. Eric
    October 25, 2011

    Same here!

    The contrast between sheer modernity of the Shinkansen and the “antique” effect of black & white pictures is excellent.

    I also hope there will be another post about those slow, local trains, with one or two wagons only and which seem to date back from an undefined era, with “guillotine” windows and wooden seats, though! That would also be an interesting contrast to the Shinkansen.

    (for those who don’t know what I mean, check here: http://travelvolunteerblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Departure.jpg)

  3. Lesley
    October 25, 2011

    Awesome pictures, love them!

    I think part of the reason why Japan’s trains are so incredibly efficient (in a way they never could be here) is because the railway workers are forbidden from forming any sort of union, so lack quite important employment rights. They have to work overnight, for example, for no extra money. So I’m told.

    Also, I’ve been told that if a train is more than a couple of minutes late, a ticket compensation receipt is given to passengers so that they can pass it on to their bosses if they’re late to work (obviously, the old ‘train was late’ excuse doesn’t really work in Japanese workplaces). If the train is late because of someone committing suicide by jumping on the tracks (as is usually the case in the rare case of a delayed train), then the bill for the total of those compensation receipts is dumped on the family of the person who committed suicide. That can’t be nice phonecall to receive: “sorry to tell you that your husband killed himself this morning, and also, you owe us a lot of money”. Such is brutally efficient Japan!

  4. Eunice
    October 25, 2011

    I love your train pictures! They are so wonderful – and the black and white makes the sleekness of the trains pop!!

  5. ted
    December 16, 2011

    The next time you’re on a shinkansen, sit toward the very back of a car. As you enter and exit tunnels, notice how the walls seem to ‘breathe,’ pulsing with the changes in pressure. Science!